Filmgarde Cineplexes to shut 2 cinemas in Singapore as part of business transformation plan
SINGAPORE: Filmgarde Cineplexes said on Tuesday (Jan 11) that it is shutting two of its cinemas, as part of a business transformation plan to cope with "changing trends" in the industry.
In a news release, the home-grown cinema operator said it will cease operations at its Bugis+ and Century Square outlets by March following the expiry of its leases at the two shopping malls.
“Filmgarde will progressively close these outlets for reinstatement works starting in the first quarter of 2022,” it said.
Its director Han Minli told CNA that the company is still finalising the schedule for these reinstatement works, which depend on several factors such as the availability of workers. At the moment, it foresees the cinema at Century Square to be “closing towards the tail-end of March” while Bugis+ might be closed “slightly earlier”.
“But that said, we would definitely be giving our customers sufficient notice," said Ms Han.
“Just under 20 employees” stationed at the two cinemas will be affected by the closures. The company said it will retain all employees and redeploy them across other divisions, such as its property and hospitality businesses.
Plans for its remaining cinema at Leisure Park Kallang, alongside new business initiatives, will be announced “in due course”, it noted.
The company has been reviewing key industry trends for some time now, according to Filmgarde’s head of cinema operations Sherman Ong.
“Since 2013, Singapore’s overall cinema attendance has been on a general decline. This is in spite of an increase in the number of screens and seating capacity during the same period,” he added in the news release.
“In fact, from 2017 to 2019, national cinema attendance had already fallen to pre-2010 levels. The onset of COVID-19 only served to accelerate and exacerbate these existing trends.”
Mr Ong noted that the film industry, like many others, has seen tremendous changes amid the digitalisation wave.
The surge in online streaming platforms, he added, has “fundamentally altered global content production and distribution models as well as audience behaviour and media consumption patterns”.
This has impacted cinemas all over the world, including those in Singapore, which have traditionally been reliant on Hollywood and other overseas contents, he said.
“As such, we feel that with the expiry of our leases, it is timely for us to shift our investments to focus on developing new areas of growth within the media industry and to expand our presence in other sectors, so as to keep pace with market demands,” said Mr Ong.
Filmgarde is one of the smaller players in the local cinema industry which has received relentless hits amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This included a four-month closure at the height of the outbreak in 2020 and brief bans on food and beverage consumption last year, while seats in cinema halls remain marked out to leave gaps in between movie-goers.
The ever-changing safety protocols over the course of the pandemic has weighed down on the financials of an industry that thrives on ticket sales and even more on food and beverage revenue, operators told CNA previously.
In May last year, Filmgarde had temporarily closed all its cinemas for about two weeks when COVID-19 protocols were tightened in Singapore to stamp out a sudden spike in community cases. Then, it said that stricter curbs, as well as market factors, had hurt box-office takings.
Filmgarde said it was set up in 2007 to offer audiences a new movie-going experience in Singapore. Despite having no prior experience in the film industry, it managed to break "new grounds in the industry in various areas" such as being the "first cineplex in Southeast Asia to be fully fitted with the Immersive AuroMax 3D cinema sound technology".
Despite the streamlining of its cinema operations, the firm said it remains "deeply committed" to supporting the local film industry.
"While cinema operations will no longer be central to our business activities, we believe that cinemas, films and moviemaking are still integral for us and for the development of a rich cultural landscape," Mr Ong said.
“Going forward, we remain committed to supporting Singapore films, local film community projects and outreach programmes through new models and initiatives in keeping with our plan for transformative actions for our legacy cinema operations."
Elsewhere in the local industry, plans for a merger between Cathay Cineplexes and Golden Village appear to have fallen through. The proposed merger was first announced in December 2020.
Last week, Cathay’s owner mm2 Asia said in a filing to the Singapore Exchange that the agreement has lapsed after conditions of the proposed merger were unfulfilled by the long stop date of Dec 31, 2021.
The Singapore-listed media company also had plans to sell at least 80 per cent of its Cathay cinema business to local investment firm Kingsmead Properties, but that was also called off in the same week.
Kingsmead Properties said on Jan 3 that uncertainty over the Omicron variant has “dampened investing appetite for the moment”. "We hope to be able to revisit the acquisition again, and hopefully soon enough, when the COVID-19 situation further eases,” it added.